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How Big Pharma Gets You To Stay on a Drug For Life

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Why has Big Pharma failed to produce new antibiotics for deadly infections like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci),   C. Difficile and Acinetobacter baumannii even as they leap from hospital to community settings? Because there is no money in it!

Pharma executives "have shown less interest in medicines like antibiotics that actually cure disease than in those that only treat symptoms," writes Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Meds. "Most blockbusters are pills for conditions such as anxiety, high cholesterol or constipation that must be taken daily, often for months or years. They are designed for rich Americans who can afford to buy them." Nor are medicines for tropical diseases like malaria, which kills a child every 30 seconds, a priority, notes Petersen. They also lack ka-ching.


Book now available by Martha Rosenberg
 

Since direct-to-consumer drug advertising debuted in the late 1990s, the number of people on prescription drugs and especially prescription drugs for life has ballooned. Between 2001 to 2007 the number of adults and children on one or more prescriptions for chronic conditions rose by more than 12 million reports the Associated Press and 25 percent of US children now take a medication for a chronic condition. Seven percent of kids take two or more daily drugs. Who says advertising doesn't work?

Of the top selling drugs in 2011, led by Lipitor, Nexium, Plavix, Advair Diskus, Abilify, Seroquel, Singulair and Crestor, none is taken occasionally, or "as needed" and the treatment goal is never being getting off the drug like an antibiotic. Why would Pharma deal itself out of the game?

There are two ways Pharma hooks the US public on prescriptions for life. First, prescriptions that used to be taken as needed for pain, anxiety, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux), asthma, mood problems, migraines and even erectile dysfunction, gout and retroviruses (in some cases) are now full-time medicines. Instead of having a bad day or heartburn, you have a disease like anxiety or GERD which calls for full pharmaceutical artillery. Instead of having body pain to be treated transiently, you are put on an antidepressant like Cymbalta or seizure drug like Lyrica or Neurontin indefinitely.

Secondly, many of the top selling drugs today are to prevent chronic conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and osteoporosis that people are said to be "at risk" for. Needless to say, in both cases, people never know if the drugs are working or whether they would have had symptoms without them. This creates a loyal customer who is afraid to quit a prescription because it might be working. And why should they quit anyway when a third party is probably paying?

Here are some drugs, not all, that are marketed for perpetuity.

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ADHD and Drugs for Pediatric "Psychopathologies"

 

Thanks to Pharma's "diagnose early" and screening campaigns, millions of children are treated with stimulants for ADHD and antipsychotics for bipolar disorder and assorted conduct, oppositional defiant, development disorders and "spectrums" today. No wonder Michael Bandick, brand manager for Eli Lilly's p opular antipsychotic Zyprexa , called it "the molecule that keeps on giving," at a national sales meeting. But giving kids daily drugs creates two problems. Parents will never know if they would have outgrown their conditions and" it's unlikely they'll ever get "clean."   In fact, Pharma marketers worry about the revenue threat of kids going off their meds when they leave home   and runs an ad campaign in college newspapers to keep them on. One ad shows the lead singer of Maroon 5, declaring, "I remember being the kid with ADHD. Truth is, I still have it." "It's Your ADHD. Own It," is the ad's tag line.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

 

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When the popular HRT pill Prempro was launched by Wyeth, now Pfizer, in the 1980s, then CEO Bob Essner told sales associates. "We can make real the full promise of HRT to create in the near future a world where the majority of women will start HRT at menopause and continue on it for the rest of their lives," reports Philadelphia magazine . The scheme of treating estrogen "deficiency" for 30 or 40 years worked until 2002 when HRT was found to cause breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and dementia. They were some of the conditions it was supposed to prevent. Oops. But Pharma has not abandoned the billion dollar franchise and news about estrogen benefits is creeping back into the news, predicated on the public's short memory. People don't lose hormones because they age, they age because they lose hormones, say Pharma hormone sellers. Even men are now suffer from testosterone deficiencies or Low T.

Happy Pills

 

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
 

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